The UK is heading towards a ‘burnout breakpoint’ with search data exposing alarming levels of people seeking help. As we quickly approach the anniversary of the first lockdown. Businesses are being urged to support employees and implement practical solutions to prevent similar levels throughout 2021 and hordes of workers reaching their breakpoint. Data shows that searches for help with stress and burnout have reached new heights with terms such as ‘burnout’ and ‘stress symptoms’ peaking throughout the past year. Working parents have been particularly at risk with women taking on more family and home-schooling commitments alongside work. Ok
Pre-COVID, burnout was becoming a must-know term among employers. In 2019, the term was officially added to the International Classification of Diseases, as an occupational phenomenon. The definition was later updated to directly reference ‘chronic workplace stress that is not successfully managed’ as the modern working world pushed teams to their limits.
Google searches for ‘stress symptoms’ peaked throughout 2020 with COVID, isolation, job security, and home-schooling among other concerns putting workers under the microscope. Searches for these terms notably peaked in early October, coinciding with the second lockdown announcement in the UK. ‘Symptoms of stress’ was a ‘breakout’ search term of 2020, meaning the search term grew more than 5000% compared to the previous year. There was also a 50% increase in the search term ‘chronic stress symptoms’.
Searches of ‘signs of burnout’ were up 150% in 2020 – closely followed by ‘burnout syndrome’ which were up 110% in 2020. Perhaps the most worrying for employers is that searches of the question ‘how to get signed off work with stress’ were up 80% in 2020. These levels of stress and burnout could lead to a sudden mass exodus from the workforce for an alarming amount of staff. So far in 2021 ‘burnout’ searches have remained high, peaking twice, firstly on the 17th of January and then again on the 28th of February. The term ‘parental burnout’ was also a breakout topic as pressures on parents grew again in the third lockdown.
Chris Parke, comments, “COVID-19 has put work and life under the microscope, pressures came from unexpected areas that few employers could have foreseen. However, burnout is not a new concept, nor is stress and before the pandemic workers were facing the phenomenon at a growing rate that has only been expedited by COVID and is pushing workers further than ever. Employers also face a new challenge, tracking wellbeing in a remote team is no easy feat and a new experience for many. The key thing to remember is that staff are the backbone of business and the current rates of stress and are not sustainable. A staff breakpoint is also a business breakpoint.”
Burnout can have long-term health impacts with studies even suggesting that intense burnout alters long-term brain function, altering reaction time and processing skills. It will also impact team dynamics with certain groups who are most likely to burnout experiencing strained relationships and exclusion. Parke adds, “There is no quick fix, seeing the warning signs and prevention is the key.”
Working parents are especially at risk from professional burnout, particularly while home-schooling responsibilities continue. A concern is that too much focus is put on remote working as a quick fix for relief. While office culture and the demands it brings were ready for an overhaul pre-COVID, the balance of working and schooling from home is a new, largely unprecedented issue.
Diversity initiatives can not be ignored through this time. Women are more likely to do the majority of domestic chores and are 10 times more likely to miss work to care for a sick child. There is a significant risk that progress will be undone with women choosing to leave the workforce to focus on family commitments. Employers must be aware of this risk and ensure women are supported.
Parke adds, “To support working parents, employers can maintain open communications, give employees the ability to work flexibly even if this means not working the typical ‘core hours’ and encourage all members of the team to show empathy to individual circumstances. A gentle reminder that support is available can go a long way.”